The famous old Latin phrase was Carpe Diem! – “Seize the Day!” The ancient slogan was revived some years ago in the movie, Dead Poets Society, and was fashioned into a song in the Disney musical, Newsies.
The phrase “Seize the day!” is open to both a godless understanding and a Christian understanding. The ancient Greeks and Romans and a lot of people down to 2013 believe in seizing the day with a godless gusto which chants “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Such people have no hope in the one, true, triune God. They desperately try to enjoy life while they can and then die and be done with it. If only they knew!
But there is sense in which our Christian faith also urges us to “seize the day.” Jesus underlined the urgency of His redemptive work for us, saying: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day. The night cometh when no man can work.” He also underlined the urgency of our own situation, saying: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
That’s why we Christians refer to our lifetime on this earth as our “time of grace,” our golden opportunity to be brought to faith in Christ through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament and to remain in that faith until death.
Grace has its deadlines. Every unexpected diagnosis of a deadly disease, every freak accident, every heart attack and stroke, every earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood and fire preaches this to us.
But consider the longsuffering and patience of God. It is easy to focus on the judgments of God. We remember the worldwide flood of Noah’s day and imagine people banging on the door of the ark. But do we remember that before a single raindrop fell, God gave folks 120 years to mend their ways and sent Noah, a preacher of righteousness, to warn them?
We remember that Sodom and Gomorrah were incinerated by God. But do we remember how God gave them another chance, how Abraham prayed for them, how angels walked in the streets of Sodom before the bell tolled?
We remember that Joshua was told by God to exterminate the wicked Canaanites. But do we remember that God told Abraham that he was giving these nations 400 years to repent – nearly twice the age of our country?
Israel and Judah were carried off into captivity for their gross idolatry. But do we remember that for centuries before that, God sent His servants, the prophets, to warn about what was coming?
Jerusalem was finally leveled by the Romans in 70 A.D. But do we remember that 40 years earlier the Son of God Himself walked in their streets with the everlasting Gospel and they crucified Him?
It’s easy to act surprised when God’s judgments descend – and to forget the love, the patience, the longsuffering of God who does not want anyone to perish, but all to repent and to come to knowledge of the truth.
You and I are going to die. You and I are going to meet God. You and I want to be forever with Him who loved us even unto death and has washed us in His cleansing blood. In our Lord’s parable of the tenants in the vineyard – tenants who try the Lord’s patience – we are reminded that grace has its deadlines. God has graciously given each of us today. We do not know about tomorrow. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!